The Center for Land Use Interpretation Newsletter

Initial Points Survey Field Session


1485 Jesse Vogler and Louis Schalk from the Institute of Marking and Measuring. photo by Chris TaylorAS PART OF the opening of the exhibit Initial Points: Anchors of America’s Grid, Jesse Vogler and Louis Schalk from the Institute of Marking and Measuring (IMAM) led a public field session and surveying exercise in the urban landscape of Los Angeles. The group, a few dozen members of the public who responded to an email announcement, gathered at the CLUI at noon on Saturday, January 28th, for a brief run-through of the exhibit and an overview of the day’s activities.

1486 Inserting the new benchmark into the ground outside the Center's Los Angeles office. In an urban environment, the placement of benchmarks on curbs is typical, as they tend to be more stable, hard, and fixed then sidewalks, pavement, or buildings. photo by Chris TaylorThe group then headed outside the front door of the CLUI, where a five-inch-deep hole had been drilled in the curb a half hour earlier. The base of a brass monument was inserted in the hole, In front of the crowd, and epoxied in place. The brass monument, supplied and inscribed by the City of Los Angeles, will now become part of the city’s official network of more than 17,000 benchmarks, covering a 1,700 square mile area, each indicating their elevation relative to a fixed starting point plane known as the National Geodetic Datum of 1929, based on sea level, as determined originally in 1929.

1488 Jim Fox looking through the optical level. CLUI photoThe group then moved one block west, to the nearest existing benchmark (number 13-02781), embedded in the curb at the corner of Cardiff Street and Venice Boulevard, next to an Indian boutique. While one member of the Institute of Marking and Measuring team held a surveyor's rod (a telescoping graduated pole showing inches and feet, like a tall ruler) over the benchmark, another member set up an optical level on a tripod at a point due west of the new CLUI marker, one block away. With this device, a level elevation plane could be established a few feet above the ground, by looking at the rod through the level. This plane was then transferred down the block (in a number of steps, around objects restricting the view) to the new CLUI benchmark, enabling its elevation to be calculated relative to the existing one.

1487 The Cardiff Street Benchmark, number 13-02781, the nearest existing official LA benchmark to CLUI's office, was used to determine the level of the new CLUI benchmark down the street. CLUI photoThe Cardiff Street benchmark was at a known elevation of 103.103 feet above sea level. The new benchmark was calculated to be at 104.713 feet above sea level, 1.61 feet higher than the point to the west, suggesting  slight downward slope westward, to the ocean a few miles away (note, too, that surveyors use tenths of a foot, not inches, or twelfths).

1492 Jesse Vogler of IMAM and the group at the Baldwin Hills Overlook. CLUI photoOnce this step was accomplished, the group broke up to re-form at the Baldwin Hills Overlook, a bare hilltop in a nearby park.

1489 Sarah Simons holding the surveyor's rod and prism, outside CLUI headquarters, looking up at the group on the Baldwin Hills Overlook. photo by David WilsonThis location provides a direct line of sight to the front door of the CLUI, nearly a mile away, and to the new benchmark in the curb. Jesse Vogler of IMAM set up a total station at the top of the mound, and pointed its lens downward. Sarah Simons, of the CLUI, was outside the door holding a rod with a prism attached to it.

1490 Jesse Vogler of IMAM looking at the view at the other end. CLUI photo

1484 The Total station is the primary tool of the modern surveyor. It combines the function of a level, transit, theodolite, and an electronic distance measuring (EDM) device. CLUI photoThe total station’s electronic measuring system emits an infrared signal that bounces off the prism and back to the total station, enabling the device to immediately calculate the distance between them: 4,954.33 feet. With this figure known, the elevation of top of the hill is determined by calculating the angle of the total station’s scope, looking at the prism (the difference between the “optical plane” of the device and the prism), an amount calculated by the device to be 324.06 feet. From this we add the elevation of the benchmark (which we determined earlier to be 104.713 feet above sea level), add the height of the prism above the benchmark (6.00 feet, as indicated on its graduated pole), and subtract the distance of the total station’s focal plane to the ground (measured by the device’s infrared signal to be 4.94 feet), and arrive at the number 429.833 feet: the height of hill we are standing on, above sea level.

1494 San Bernardino Peak, visible in the distance, is the Initial Point for the surveys of all of Southern California. CLUI photoAlso visible from this point atop the Baldwin Hills Overlook, especially on a clear day such as this, is San Bernardino Peak, a mountain 85 miles to the east, which was used as the original survey point for the federal survey for all of Southern California. Using the peak as the zero angle, the total station determines the CLUI is 222.33.0 degrees relative to it, and using the overlook as a fulcrum, it was thus possible for us to connect the CLUI benchmark to this Initial Point of the public land survey – the rectilinear matrix of the west, and the subject of the exhibit Anchors of America's Grid, in the building 4,954.33 feeet away the grid below. 

1491 The survey field trip group atop the Baldwin Hills Overlook, as seen from the Center's office. photo by David Wilson

1498 The CLUI Benchmark. For more information on benchmarks, visit Navigate LA, the City of Los Angeles’ remarkable online map that includes the benchmarks in the city, as well as hundreds of other forms of infrastructure and engineering, including trees, lampposts, sewer lines, and property parcels: CLUI photo